Behind the compound, I lie in tall grass and focus on the planets hiding behind the sky. I have a game today. My surroundings slowly drip into small waves until they are hollow shadows. I keep my eyes open and witness the many layers peeling back: a man on a boat, a woman in mountainous jungle, a child knee-deep in snow. The meadow’s clear silence begins to sprout tall buildings, concrete slabs, and the screech of transportation. The jolt is heavy as I sink into the new scene. I sit up and inhale the stinking air, wincing at the humans in pursuit of commerce and fantasies. Their parade is hungry. I try not to watch them too brazenly; they don’t like my kind. Our eyes upset them, our gazes shaking lose unnamed fears and regrets. We view it as healing; they view it as attack.
That’s why hunting their songs can be a dangerous game.
Now immersed in their world, I tune my ears for distant music, flipping past radio waves and flat recordings, settling instead on the acoustic waves of live performance. Here’s one that rises above the others! I grab the thread of song and then run from city to city in search of the source. In this world, I blur as I run.
The guitarist sits in someone’s dimly-lit backyard, leaning against the post of an empty, rusted clothesline. He looks up as I arrive, his voice halting and strumming faltering.
Continue, I tell him.
The man’s fluttering and racing mind stills with his voice. He shivers. “Who the hell are you? You’re … pulling nightmares up from my guts or something.”
I look away. It is an instinctual response between our species.
The man’s hands still strum the guitar, but he seems unable to sing anymore.
I step closer, realizing I’m standing in an overgrown flower garden. I crouch to his level. What makes you sing?
The man’s thoughts tumble like dead weeds down a path. Images form and reform: a dark-haired woman leaning against the peeling white paint of a wooden house. A full moon over an empty prairie, and discarded bottles glittering. Calloused fingers and blood blisters, hunger edged with desperation, and a sickly desire to grow. My breath catches and I tremble under the weight of the emotion.
I stand up and step from the garden. You sing well.
I let the worlds snap back into place. I sit up and inhaling the scent of jasmine and magnolia of home, savoring the weight dropping off. I walk west to the woods and find an empty space to solidify the song. A note marries an image here, a tone combines with an emotion there, all stack and curve and stretch into time. I weave several levels of experience, of meaning, and of comprehension, suitable for dancing between. This song grows roots in the soil and in space, adding to the forest of song sculptures.
I stand back and survey my work. I will send a dream to the man. When their cities crumble, perhaps they will find their way here and sleep.
Musical Inspiration: a Mark Lanegan‘s “Riding on the Nightengale” from the album “Whiskey for the Holy Ghost.” I hesitate to categorize this fabulous album as grunge, but it was the grunge era and Lanegan was one of the underrated singers of the scene. His solo stuff was so much more sophisticated than his work with the Screaming Trees. He’s a versatile singer and one of my favorites. So glad he didn’t burn out and die like many of his peers (RIP Layne Staley).